The Roman Empire in the West has collapsed and Italy is under the government of the Gothic king, Theoderich. Though a barbarian, Theoderich's generally mild rule has led to security and prosperity In Italy. But some among the younger generation of the Roman aristocracy are chaffing under the barbarian yoke. Rusticiana, young wife of the Senator Boethius, favors action and her rash words are taken literally by a boy, Peter, who makes a clumsy assassination attempt against the king. Injured in body and spirit as a result of his failure, Peter nurses a grudge against the Goths to be paid at a later date. Until then, he is entrusted to the gifted young teacher, Benedictus, to see to his education.
Thus begins Louis de Wohl's epic tale, Citadel of God
. Originally written in 1959, the novel is a gripping journey through the early 6th century AD. In it, de Wohl brings to life many of the celebrated names of that epoch--Boethius, Theodoric, Cassiodorus, Symmachus, Amalasuntha, Totlia, and Belisarius, as well as St. Benedict and many of his followers. The book's subtitle is "A Novel about Saint Benedict, and it lives up to that billing. Entire passages are taken directly from the biography of Saint Benedict as contained in the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great
. De Wohl portrays Benedict accurately as a humble wonder-worker inspired by God and driven to do great things for His greater honor and glory alone.
But surrounding the Benedict story is the entire fascinating panoply of late Roman history--the triumphs and tragedies of the Justinianic era. It is a tale that few people today know at all, though it is very much worth knowing. Citadel of God
reads like a 1950s Hollywood epic and the story itself certainly lends itself to that kind of treatment.
One word of warning: there are a few PG-13 rated scenes in this book. They are nothing a young person over the age of 13 or so couldn't handle, but still--this is not a novel for young children as some of de Wohl's other works are. That said, Citadel of God
is a wonderfully engaging read as well as a good history lesson. All Catholics should read it.